PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
WEDNESDAY, 2 MARCH 2016
I acknowledge the traditional elders of the land on which we meet – the Ngunnawal people – and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.
I would also like to acknowledge those members of the National Catholic Education Commission here today – including the Chair of the Commission, the Hon. Greg Crafter.
I acknowledge too, those members of the Bishops Commission for Catholic Education, and Diocesan Directors from across the country.
I want to take this opportunity to thank and commend you for the efforts that you make, collectively as Catholic Education, to connect with elected representatives here in Canberra.
To engage in the debate – and in the national discourse on education.
It is invaluable for Senators and Members, on both sides of the Parliament, to hear directly from the people who run our schools, about the challenges and opportunities for our education system today.
Around one in five Australian children attend a Catholic school –more than 750,000 students.
Collectively, you represent one of the largest school systems in the country.
Yours is a very important voice. And a strong voice.
A voice, which in the context of the Government’s $30 billion cuts to education, has been calling out for certainty and investment in our schools.
The role you have played in the school funding debate over the last two years has been significant.
You have been a constant reminder that the community deeply values the life changing power of education – and the Labor Party shares those values.
Your Child. Our Future
I was proud to recently stand beside Bill Shorten and announce Labor’s positive plan for education: Your Child. Our Future.
A $37 billion commitment to reverse the Government’s school cuts over the next decade - and provide schools with certainty.
A re-commitment to needs-based, sector-neutral school funding.
And a $4.5 billion investment in honouring the school funding agreements we put in place in Government.
With a Shorten Labor Government, the Gonski reforms will be completed on time, and in full.
We will invest in the future of students with disability, by providing an additional $320 million in 2018 and 2019, more than reversing the Government’s cuts to More Support for Students with Disability program.
Those here today will know first-hand, the difference these investments will make in educational outcomes, and in students’ lives.
Needs-based funding matters to all schools. It matters to Catholic schools. And it matters to students in Catholic schools.
To the 295,000 students from low socio-economic status backgrounds in Catholic schools who, under Labor’s plan, will receive more than $1,000 per year in dedicated federal support by 2019.
To the 32,000 students with disability.
To the 19,500 Indigenous students.
To the 15,500 students with limited English.
And to every student in regional, rural and remote Catholic schools.
The ongoing need for reform
The need to tackle inequality and improve outcomes in our schools is more urgent than ever.
Disadvantaged students are almost three years behind.
Country students are as much as two years behind.
There is as much as two years difference when we step across state borders.
The gap between high and low performing students is bigger than the OECD average.
And a student from a low socio-economic background is five times more likely to be a poor performer than a socio-economically advantaged background.
We know the problems – and after the biggest review of school funding in 40 years – we also know the solutions.
After just two school years, the dividends of the needs-based Gonski reforms are already clear.
Take for example, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Primary in Waterloo.
The school serves a socio-economically disadvantaged community, but it is achieving great results.
The principal – John Farrell – has harnessed needs-based funding to provide targeted assistance, including speech therapists.
The result is that students at this school are up to 100 points better in Year Three grammar, reading and spelling assessments, compared to their peers in schools with a similar socio-economic profile.
The extra opportunity each of these students now have will compound year on, on year.
If we keep meeting their needs, every one of these students will leave school with the skills and confidence they need to get a job or start a business, and play a full and active role in our society.
This is a story repeated right across the country.
And if we want to make sure that every child, in every school has the equality of opportunity they deserve, it is essential that the six-year Gonski agreements are delivered in full.
Because only then, will all states, all schools and all children have the support and resources they need.
Stopping the agreements part-way will lock-in inequality.
My home state of South Australia will be the worst hit – missing out on over 80 per cent of the additional federal funding schools need to reach the national resourcing standard.
After the OECD just days ago declared educational inequality a ‘structural weakness’ in our economy – Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to dump the Gonski reforms is breathtakingly short-sighted.
Talk about innovation is meaningless when the Government is at the same time ripping $30 billion from our schools.
Importance of certainty
It is now almost two and a half years that I’ve had the privilege to be the Shadow Minister for Education.
Over that time I have met with many of you here today.
Above all else, one message that you have sent me at every opportunity is the importance of certainty in school funding.
It is a message that Labor has heard, and which we have acted on.
But it is – of course – the Government’s CPI indexation policy that will be weighing most heavily on the minds of principals and school managers.
Under Malcolm Turnbull, this real cut to school funding will apply to your schools from 2018.
And it remains firmly the Government’s policy.
In recent weeks, Ministers – including the Education Minister and the Finance Minister – have confirmed the Government’s policy of linking school funding to CPI.
It has been in two Budgets.
And principals have told me that it is causing a paralysing effect in schools right now.
Specialist staff cannot be hired, early intervention programs can’t be commenced and investments in learning resources are being put off.
Investments in school buildings and capital are also harder – as uncertainty about recurrent funding limits the ability of schools to commit to finance.
The Commonwealth provides the lion’s share of funding for Catholic schools – and right now I know your schools face deep uncertainty about the future.
You have warned that:
“Without sustainable funding, fees will increase, schools could close and the quality of education will be compromised.”
[National Catholic Education Commission, 25 September 2015]
The fact is, most of your schools are low-fee schools, serving local communities – communities that deserve the very best quality education and communities that in many cases will struggle to afford any increase in fees at all.
Putting school funding beyond politics
Since the Gonski review, the government and non-government school sectors have together achieved something really significant.
The divisive debates of the past, have been left in the past.
They truth is, they serve no-one, least of all our children.
All school sectors are stronger when we work together to make our schools better. All parties have shown leadership in achieving this.
I want to say thank you today.
And I want to let you know that it is my hope that school funding can be put beyond politics too.
So that policies don’t change every time the government changes.
And so you have the long-term certainty you need to plan for the very best education for our students.
It’s not an overstatement – Australia’s future economy and social cohesion depend on the quality and equity of our education system today.
We know this.
So if it is good enough for us to plan for infrastructure over 10 years, and defence over 30 – I think we should plan for our schools over the long term too.
The first step to a long-term, bi-partisan approach to school funding and school reform would be for Malcolm Turnbull to cash in that school funding ‘unity ticket’ the Government took to the last election.
The Minister has said he would like to design a new school funding model – but not until after the election.
Those here today know that would take years. Years of uncertainty that our schools can’t afford.
Catholic schools in Australia have a proud history of social justice.
You have played a really significant role in providing equality of opportunity for generations of students – and you continue to do this today.
On behalf of Labor, I make this commitment to you today - we will work with you to make sure every Australian child gets the support they need to achieve their best, no matter what school they go to.